Friday, July 14, 2006


How do people feel about pop culture references in their reading? Do you love it? Hate it? Feel it dates the book? Don't care? Since I've got a lot of useless pop culture knowledge floating around in my head (and since I'm very opinionated, it can be a double edged sword. I only like it in very small doses, and it can really affect my enjoyment of a book. If it fits the character it's great, but if it's, say, a 25 year-old urban hipster heroine who loves Celine Dion, then it's jarring. I hate the lame use of pop culture.

I've always been up front about my fangirly love for J.R. Ward. I actually pop over to her message board once or twice a week and lurk, because she lets loose some hints and tidbits and I'm a spoiler ho. Some kind (and obsessive) soul regularly updates a post called Highlights for Newbies, Lurkers and Occasional Posters. This is quite useful for folks like me who don't really want to go through all the threads, and just want to find the meaty stuff. So I'm popping in today and there was this post written by Ms. Ward, featuring Zsadist and Bella, the hero and heroine of Lover Awakened (out in Sept. 2006 yeah!). Before I continue I just want to clarify that this is not a scene from that book, rather more of a fan extra. Anyhoo, Zsadist, who has been established in past books as being musically talented, picks up his guitar to serenade his beloved. The song? "Arms Wide Open" by Creed, complete with lyrics. Haaate. Now some of you may disagree with me, you may think that this sounds sweet and touching, but it makes me want to puke. I had to scroll really fast to the end of the post because I felt so uncomfortable. Now, of course, it's not Ms. Ward's fault that I loathe Creed above all others, and they do have (had?) a lot of fans, but it just seems like an odd choice for Zsadist, the tortured, mean, disconnected and lethal one. He seems more like the kind of guy who would punch Scott Stapp in his cheesy, bombastic, rock-lite face. It just seems unbearably cheesy and out of character. I hope that Zsadist is not to be turned into a big old Care Bear.

Then again, maybe this doesn't bug anyone else in the least. The serenade, in particular, is pet peeve of mine. I remember that Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon wasn't one of my favorites, but I was enjoying it quite nicely until the end, (warning: this is a spoiler), when the hero sings to the heroine, and then everybody does the Macarena. According to her message board which I checked, it was supposed to be a Neil Diamond song he was singing. Now, unlike Creed, me loves the Neil Diamond, and the Macarena just made it so much worse, but things like this bother anyone else, or is it just my insanity? Any other pop culture pet peeves, like using dated slang or using current actors and actresses as the physical description of the character?

[I linked to the message board posts, but I think you have to register to see it.]


Kristie (J) said...

Nope, you're not alone in your insanity. I don't like pop culture references either. For one thing, when you go back years later and do a reread, it really makes the book seem dated. I think a good author can get along fine without them. Second - and I hate to admit this - I don't always get them. Now luckily I happen to know the song you're talking about by Creed - and I know the Macarena, but a lot of the music mentioned in the JR Ward books for example, I don't know. My sons would - but not me :)
And shoes - I know nothing about shoes. I'm just a sneaker/loafer kind of girl. Anything with heels do not grace my little size 6 1/2 feet. So whenever a contemporary mentions shoes I'm just so totally lost. And a lot of books these days mention shoes.

Anonymous said...

I hate pop culture references. Snorted through my nose at your pinning Zsadist as one who would punch Scott Sapp in the nose. So true. I wonder what the point is of adding that, after all, you do take the chance that readers don't like the pop culture reference and that ends up ruining the character for you.

Devon said...

Too funny Kristie, so right about the shoes. I love nice shoes and clothes, but my budget keeps me firmly in more the Old Navy/Target range. The shoe/clothing label references often go over my head. They're like an author shorthand for character description. And they will date the book as well.

Jane--this particular passage really made me cringe. I don't understand the point either. I imagine the immediacy of pop culture usage is intended to make the reader identify, because it's shared knowledge. But it can kill the mood as much as set it. Y'know?

La Karibane said...

I commented last week on a loop abou the use of current actors as the description of character. I don't like it. I once read an AA romance and the hero was compared to LL Cool J. Physically, I like the man...a bit but he's got a sleazy, playa' vibe that didn't quite fit the hero. Also, I have to say that I'm numbed to the purported beauty of some people like Brangelina etc.

As for the pop culture refs, I have a huge problem with that. I'm not from the US so first, I have to understand them to begin with!!!! I have cable TV so I think I'm pretty current...if it ends up on TV, of course.

But for music, and this is a problem I have had specifically with SK and JRW, I don't know most of the songs/singers/groups cited.

I also don't like singing heroes, punto. Except for Lucy Hatch's hero, who does this for a living, I can't stand a hero who sings. I can't sing to save my life but my mother and a couple of cousins do, quite well, in fact. So I keep imagining these heroes singing off-key...not romantic IMO.

This reminds me of the ending to Take a Chance on Me by Susan Donovan (?) where the lawyer/cop hero sings to the vet heroine, the dog and her niece. Seemed too corny to me, not to mention out of caracter since the guy was a Rugby playing, jazz/blues, cigar aficianado.

But it does seems it's the paranormal authors who repeatedly do this to me. Don't the BDB guys listen to Rap or Hip Hop or something?

Devon said...

Hi La Karibane!!! Long time, no see! Good example. Using a real life person for a character description, besides being cheating (if you ask me), can turn you off right away if you don't like the person. And serenades suck.

Hmmm...I wonder if paranormal authors do use more pop culture references than others. It kinda seems like it, then again I read a lot of paranormals, so its probably skewed for me. An attempt to establish their "edginess" or whatever?

I was just out in my car and I heard that new Nick Lachey song about being half the man he used to be, and I thought, maybe Zsadist could sing that next time. Then I thought, I wish I had brought my IPOD with me. Then I thought, I've got mental problems.